On the Absolute Surety of Intelligence that May Be 60% – 80% Correct

In the not so distant past, President George Bush was eviscerated by his detractors for acting on the intelligence concerning WMD’s in Iraq. Bush acted on the best intelligence he had. Despite the fact that WMD’s, proscribed weapons and delivery systems were in fact found in Iraq, Bush was hammered on the issue. Even today, people on the left still try to hammer the idea that Bush lied on the issue of WMD’s in Iraq.

What was missing from the intelligence estimates on Iraq was not the actual presence of WMD’s, but the quantity that was found. The lack of large volumes of WMD’s in Iraq illustrate one unchangable fact:

Nothing is ever a “sure thing” in the intelligence world.


To illustrate the in-exact “science” of intelligence gathering and inherent danger in acting on what is never a 100% “sure thing,” John Hawkins over at Right Wing News put together a list of quotes on WMD’s in Iraq by those who later charged that “Bush lied.”

A sampling from the list includes:

“I share the administration’s goals in dealing with Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction.” — Dick Gephardt in September of 2002

“Iraq does pose a serious threat to the stability of the Persian Gulf and we should organize an international coalition to eliminate his access to weapons of mass destruction. Iraq’s search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to completely deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power.” — Al Gore, 2002

“We are in possession of what I think to be compelling evidence that Saddam Hussein has, and has had for a number of years, a developing capacity for the production and storage of weapons of mass destruction.” — Bob Graham, December 2002

“Saddam Hussein is not the only deranged dictator who is willing to deprive his people in order to acquire weapons of mass destruction.” — Jim Jeffords, October 8, 2002

“We have known for many years that Saddam Hussein is seeking and developing weapons of mass destruction.” — Ted Kennedy, September 27, 2002

“Every day Saddam remains in power with chemical weapons, biological weapons, and the development of nuclear weapons is a day of danger for the United States.” — Joe Lieberman, August, 2002

This becomes relevant in light of Leon Panetta’s revelation in Time Magazine on the lack of certainty that bin Laden was where the intelligence community believed him to be:

But Panetta concluded that the evidence was strong enough to risk the raid, despite the fact that his aides were only 60%-80% confident that bin Laden was there, and decided to make his case to the President. At the key Thursday meeting in which President Obama heard the arguments from his top aides on whether or not to go into Pakistan to kill or capture bin Laden, Panetta admitted that the evidence of bin Laden’s presence at the compound was circumstantial. But “when you put it all together,” Panetta says he told the room, “we have the best evidence since [the 2001 battle of] Tora Bora [where bin Laden was last seen], and that then makes it clear that we have an obligation to act.” (emphasis mine)

As we know, Panetta and the intelligence community was right. Bin Laden was where they thought he was.

But what if he wasn’t?

What if the operation had gone horribly wrong and bin Laden was not in the country, much less the town of Abbottabad? What if Panetta was recommending another ill-fated operation such as Carter’s operation to rescue the Iran hostages in 1977? Or the infamous “Blackhawk down” operation in Somali in 1993?

Would Panetta and Obama have suffered the same attacks from the media and others?

The intelligence Bush acted upon was much stronger than Obama acted upon. The fact that one president is being viewed as a hero while the other continues to be raked over the coals hinges on one thing and one thing alone – the perceived success of the mission.

As a result of the bin Laden operation, Americans rejoice at the death of the terrorist that attacked this country. On the other hand, people will always think that the Iraq operation was a failure and a waste despite achieving all of the objectives as stated in the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq.

Such views and attitudes against Bush are hypocritical at best.

It is time to lay the canard of “Bush lied” to rest. As Obama and Panetta have just demonstrated, you act on the information you have, not the information you wish you had.

Because nothing – nothing – is ever a “sure thing” in the intelligence community.

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